Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Before the Flood


Picture the scene. 

It's Saturday morning. I've woken up feeling rubbish, full of cold, and I still have yesterday's eyebrow headache. It's cold, really bloody cold, and I'm wrapped up in my dressing gown, eating peanut butter and jam on toast. I stare fondly at my Modern Family boxset, when I'm rudely startled by Simon starting up the PlayStation and searching YouTube. I see Climate Change Documentary and 1hr36m. This is not the Saturday morning tv dream. 

And then I realised that it was this mentality that is at the root of the climate change problem. Too many people not taking an interest, not engaging, not making sacrifices...and watching Modern Family and burning fossil fuels instead. 

Before the Flood is presented by the National Geographic, and follows Leonardo DiCaprio on a journey across the world in his role as a UN Peace Messenger. The documentary begins with a reference to a piece of artwork DiCaprio had in his bedroom as a child. It features the world in three different stages: 
1. The Garden of Eden - the world operating in perfect harmony
2. Before the Flood - sin, overpopulation, fantasy
3. Hell - evil, torture, darkness

DiCaprio imagines our world as a physical representation of Before the Flood, pessimistic, but recognises there is scope for change, and that Hell is not the only option. And this sets the attitude for the rest of the documentary. One of the greatest values in the production was DiCaprio's pessimism; it's not an unrealistic, all-singing-all-dancing approach to climate change. He doesn't suggest that we all stop using fossil fuels immediately, or play on unrealistic ambitions of consumption change and sustainable energy investment. It's an exploration, of people, places and industries. It highlights the problems without preaching the solutions. 

Leo DiCaprio's tour takes us first to Canada, and the Great Canadian Oil Sands, to visualise Western addiction to fossil fuels. Next to the Arctic Circle, to see the effect of melting glaciers and extreme sea level rise. Flooding in Florida, and the huge investment required to manage the issue even in the short term, brings it home for DiCaprio. The air pollution in Beijing, and an insight into China's poorly documented investment into renewables was the next stop; before moving on to India and understanding the massive weigh-up which either favours coal consumption or development. South Pacific Islands which are under impending threat from sea level rise revealed serious human risk, whilst an underwater expedition to dying Caribbean coral reefs showed the disregarded environmental impact. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of the tour for me however, was his trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. As one of the world's last remaining rainforests, and richest ecosystems, it is under enormous threat from palm oil farmers, burning the rainforest to make space for palm oil plantations. It made me want to quit my job and go and save the orangutans immediately. DiCaprio meets Obama, the Pope, entrepreneur Elon Musk - to understand their perspectives of climate change, and their visions for the future. 

The places he goes, and the people he speaks with gives a really comprehensive overview of the problem and the ways in which people and ecosystems are being affected all over the world. It is far too easy for those who feel as if they're not being directly affected (yet) to ignore the problem; whilst communities in the Global South experience more extreme weather patterns than ever before, and experience the floods, famine and poverty that comes with it. It was a stark reminder that we are, whether we like it or not, part of a global community and we, who cause a large majority of the problems, owe it to the sufferers to do something about it before it's too late. The documentary offers suggestions of small changes that individuals can make, and recognises that Western consumers aren't about to dramatically change their lifestyles. Whether you sign up to pay a voluntary carbon tax, or do your best to avoid products containing palm oil/buy alternatives which use sustainable palm oil, you can help be part of the change. We see countries like Germany and Sweden storming ahead in renewables, making a huge amount of progress, and we should aspire to follow in their footsteps. 

On a day like today, where we see the devastating news of a new US President with little (no) regard for environmental matters, about to undo all the positive work Obama has campaigned so hard for, there is no time more important to be the change. I urge you all to take the time to watch the documentary, visit the website, think about what changes you can make. This Saturday, my peanut butter will be palm oil free, and sponsorship of an Indonesian orangutan is at the top of my birthday list. 
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